The new Republican disease — dwindling deficit disorder

Keeping an eye on the dimbulbs

For three years and more, policy debate in Washington has been dominated by warnings about the dangers of budget deficits. A few lonely economists have tried from the beginning to point out that this fixation is all wrong, that deficit spending is actually appropriate in a depressed economy. But even though the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far — where are the soaring interest rates we were promised? — protests that we are having the wrong conversation have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

What’s really remarkable at this point, however, is the persistence of the deficit fixation in the face of rapidly changing facts. People still talk as if the deficit were exploding, as if the United States budget were on an unsustainable path; in fact, the deficit is falling more rapidly than it has for generations, it is already down to sustainable levels, and it is too small given the state of the economy.

…America’s budget deficit soared after the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that went with it, as revenue plunged and spending on unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs rose. And this rise in the deficit was a good thing! Federal spending helped sustain the economy at a time when the private sector was in panicked retreat…

But after peaking in 2009 at $1.4 trillion, the deficit began coming down. The Congressional Budget Office expects the deficit for fiscal 2013 (which began in October and is almost half over) to be $845 billion. That may still sound like a big number, but given the state of the economy it really isn’t.

Bear in mind that the budget doesn’t have to be balanced to put us on a fiscally sustainable path; all we need is a deficit small enough that debt grows more slowly than the economy…

Right now, a sustainable deficit would be around $460 billion. The actual deficit is bigger than that. But according to new estimates by the budget office, half of our current deficit reflects the effects of a still-depressed economy. The “cyclically adjusted” deficit — what the deficit would be if we were near full employment — is only about $423 billion, which puts it in the sustainable range; next year the budget office expects that number to fall to just $172 billion…

So we do not, repeat do not, face any kind of deficit crisis either now or for years to come…

Put it this way: Smart fiscal policy involves having the government spend when the private sector won’t, supporting the economy when it is weak and reducing debt only when it is strong. Yet the cyclically adjusted deficit as a share of G.D.P. is currently about what it was in 2006, at the height of the housing boom — and it is headed down.

The conservative hobgoblins inside the Beltway, the fiscal fearmongers in charge of the Republican Party still refuse to acknowledge John Maynard Keynes understanding of economics. What happens is every government that actually succeeds in bringing their nation out of recession utilizes Keynesian analysis and solutions. Sometimes they rename them to keep from offending fashionable conservatives.

Sometimes they’d rather keep a nation in the dumper and dying a slow death rather than aid workers and their families struggling through the economic doldrums. After all, they aren’t the folks who are hurting.

Sometimes – like today’s Republican Party – they’d rather keep saying NO while hoping that’s sufficient to put them back in charge of the economy they destroyed. That will require multiple episodes of ignorance and gullibility on the part of American voters.

Send in the clowns – and other Republican party songs

When thinking about the state of the Republican Party, I defer to a point that the Democratic consultant James Carville made the other day: “When I hear people talking about the troubled state of today’s Republican Party, it calls to mind something Lester Maddox said one time back when he was governor of Georgia. He said the problem with Georgia prisons was ‘the quality of the inmates.’

The problem with the Republican Party is the quality of the people who vote in their primaries and caucuses. Everybody says they need a better candidate, or they need a better message but — in my opinion — the Republicans have an inmate problem.” The political obsessions of the Republican base — from denying global warming to defending assault weapons to opposing any tax increases under any conditions, to resisting any immigration reform — are making it impossible to be a Republican moderate, said Carville. And without more Republican moderates, there is no way to strike the kind of centrist bargains that have been at the heart of American progress — that got us where we are and are essential for where we need to go.

Republican politicians today have a choice: either change your base by educating and leading G.O.P. voters back to the center-right from the far right, or start a new party that is more inclusive, focused on smaller but smarter government and market-based, fact-based solutions to our biggest problems.

But if Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future. It can’t win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time.

Do you know how troubled this party is? Two weeks ago, the former G.O.P. Senate majority leader Bob Dole, a great American, went to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to show his support for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. Nevertheless, the bill failed to win the two-thirds needed for ratification, because only eight Republicans dared to join Democrats in support of the treaty, which was negotiated and signed by George W. Bush! It essentially requires other countries to improve to our level of protection for the disabled, without requiring us to change any laws. It has already been ratified by 126 countries. But it failed in the Senate because Rick Santorum managed to convince the G.O.P. base that the treaty would threaten U.S. “sovereignty.” Santorum stopped just short of warning that space aliens would take over our country if we ratified the treaty…

The G.O.P. today needs its own D.L.C. The Democratic Leadership Council was founded by a group of Democratic governors and activists, led by Bill Clinton, in 1985 to lead the party back to the center from a failing leftward course that had resulted in it being repeatedly shut out of the presidency, except after Watergate…

Republicans need to go through a similar process of building new institutions and coalitions to support candidates who can move the party back to the center-right. Today, all their institutions, from think tanks to Fox TV…“are reinforcing the trends that are marginalizing their party.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have a decade to wait for a G.O.P. D.L.C. Some leaders in that party need to stand up for sane compromises right now.

Please RTFA. I agree with what Friedman is trying to say – if for no other reason than we could use more of a consensus-oriented crowd in Congress to achieve anything while we’re still stuck in the TweedleDeeDumb two-party farce. I don’t think the rightwing sect within the Republican Party will allow that. The Center-Left amalgamation in the Democrat Party will be able to get change accomplished – most likely – by a definitive majority of American voters kicking out more of the cowards along with the nutballs. They’ve already done that with over half the so-called Blue Dogs that dumbed-down the Democrats.

I also think it’s foolish to make direct comparisons with Clinton and what preceded the DLC. Control of the Democrat Party may have painted itself into a Leftish corner – only because the popular revolt against American warlords settled on Democrats to win the final push against everything from the draft to the VietNam War. And succeeded on the issues. Trouble is – settling on a Center-Left clown show without building a nationwide grassroots organization left that party twisting in the veritable wind, hanging by a red-white-and-blue parachute.

I expect the Republicans to do the same. If I had faith in anyone’s crystal ball – and I don’t – I’d expect to see a center-right party like that proposed by Mike Bloomberg to take over the role of the traditional conservative Republican Party and leave what’s left of today’s Republicans alone to finish screwing up the economy of the Confederacy.

Time for Bob Dole to leave the Republican Party behind

Bob Dole is probably mad as hell right now. And he has every right to be. In fact, he should leave the Republican Party in protest!

Dole, a lifelong Republican politician who was disabled during World War II, made an extraordinary appearance on the Senate floor Tuesday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

Dole, now 89, frail and in a wheelchair (and just six days out of the hospital), hoped his presence would sway his party to approve the treaty, which is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act that he pushed through Congress in 1990.

But his party, now controlled by the hard right, rejected it. With 38 Republicans casting “no” votes, the 61-38 vote fell five short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty.

Opponents like Tea Party favorite Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued that the treaty by its very nature threatened U.S. sovereignty and could lead to the state, rather than parents, determining what was in the best interest of disabled children in such areas as home schooling…

An instance where just a fraction of the reactionaries in charge of Republican ideology were able to translate their paranoia, xenophobia, idiocy into party policy.

The treaty, already signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

“This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate and it needs to be a wakeup call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement after the vote. He continued:

“We need to fix this place because what happens and doesn’t happen here affects millions of lives. Today the dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled and that’s unacceptable. This treaty was supported by every veterans group in America and Bob Dole made an inspiring and courageous personal journey back to the Senate to fight for it. It had bipartisan support, and it had the facts on its side, and yet for one ugly vote, none of that seemed to matter.”

So this is what the Republican Party has become since Dole left office.

The article rolls on about the emotional difficulties facing Dole if he considers leaving the party he served all his political life.

Sorry, Bob – I offer the same unnecessary “sorry” to anyone else who thinks this is difficult. I have one family member who left what the Republican Party became under George W. Bush. He didn’t need to wait for the crass cowardice of party leaders since the advent of the Tea Party.

That the party he supported for 50 years discovered a “mandate” to invade two countries and lay the deficit for those wars on the shoulders of following administrations on the basis of neo-con ideology, after taking office with a losing popular vote – was contemptible. Crap not worth justifying by any stretch of self-deceit.

What has followed through Republican opposition to the Obama presidency solely on the basis of losing control of the White House to a Black intellectual – is something lower than contemptible. Only human beings are capable of conjuring up such rationales for self-destruction.

Poll watcher training by Tea Party calls for breaking the law

A Democratic-leaning political group on Thursday criticized poll-challenger training by an Albuquerque-area Republican official, saying there was misinformation about voter-identification requirements and provisional ballots that could be used to suppress turnout in the general election.

ProgressNow New Mexico released secretly recorded video of the training done last week by Sandoval County GOP vice chairwoman Patricia Morlen, a tea party activist.

“This is a how-to guide to voter suppression, and many of their instructions are in blatant contradiction to state law,” said Pat Davis, executive director of the political group. “People trained by the GOP to ‘protect’ our elections will wreak havoc on our elections and so frustrate voters that many will simply give up and go home.”

Those attending the session were given written materials and were told that voters can be required to show a physical form of identification if that’s requested by two polling place officials from different political parties. Trainees also were told that provisional ballots will be required for the nearly 178,000 registered voters who received mailings from elections officials that could lead to them being purged after the 2014 election.

The training information is incorrect or misleading, however.

New Mexico doesn’t require a photo ID to cast a ballot. Voters need only to state their name, address and birth year at a polling place. A physical ID is required only if someone is a first-time voter and registered by mail without supplying certain identification, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The mailing to voters, including those who haven’t cast ballots in recent elections, doesn’t prevent people from voting with a regular paper ballot this year unless they’ve moved and haven’t updated their registration address. In that instance, an individual would have to use a provisional ballot, according to state elections officials…

The training session also incorrectly stated that provisional ballots will only be counted in tight elections. Provisional ballots are counted if a voter is found to be properly registered.

One of the worst rightwing ideologues in the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican, Congressman Steve Pearce from downstate New Mexico supported all of this crap even though he knows it’s illegal:

“We’re simply saying that we’re going to start, we’re going to take it back it into our hands,” said Pearce. “We should check for ID since you have to show an ID to do anything in America.”

He did, however, admit that doing so would be against the law…

Apparently being a law-abiding citizens only extended to laws Republicans approve of. They are judge and jury unto themselves.

An example of differences between UK Conservatives and the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican?

What a funny-looking doorbell!

David Cameron described US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney as having the “unique distinction of uniting the whole of England against him”, a Hollywood movie mogul has said.

Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar-winning producer, said he had personally heard Mr Cameron make the disparaging remarks to a group of people.

The revelation will risk inflaming tensions between Mr Cameron and Mr Romney, which could make trans-Atlantic relations difficult if the Republican wins the race.

Mr Weinstein told the BBC: “I witnessed Prime Minister saying to a group of people, myself included, that Mitt Romney had that unique distinction of uniting all of England against him with his various remarks. On behalf of my love of England, I have to support the President [Barack Obama] who is anything but making faux-pas.”

Mr Romney did not win many fans during his visit to Britain when he publicly cast doubt on whether Britain was prepared for the Olympics…

In a further diplomatic gaffe, the Republican candidate also appeared to breach protocol by disclosing that he had received an unusual briefing from Sir John Sawers, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), on the situation in Syria.

An adviser boasted to The Daily Telegraph that Mr Romney had also previously met the head of the Security Service (MI5).

Letting him out of doors without a handler is a bit of a problem – seeing that he relies either on guidance from the Kool Aid Party or neocon leftovers from the George W. Bush New American Century. He has a choice of nutballs or failures to guide him in foreign relations.

Romney’s Euroland trip starts with kisses for Anglo-Saxon heritage

As Romney arrived in London for a three-day stay, The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed Romney campaign adviser who lauded the special relationship between the two countries.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the Telegraph quoted the adviser as saying, “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

The paper said the adviser’s remarks “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity…”

That’s OK. No one in the Republican Party will notice.

Romney is in London to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games on Friday, the first leg of a week-long trip that will also take him to Israel and Poland as he seeks to burnish his foreign policy credentials and present himself as a viable alternative to the Democratic incumbent.

Romney, in an NBC News interview, dismissed the comment…blah, blah, blah.

Romney set the stage for his trip with a scathing speech on American soil on Tuesday, accusing the president of mishandling foreign policy hot spots from the Middle East to China and neglecting U.S. allies…

What allies? If they’re not flunkies like Israel, everyone – even the Sassenach 🙂 – just hopes we don’t invade.

The Obama spending binge that never happened

Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree. As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has. Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:

• In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

• In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.

• In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.

• In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.

• Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.

Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4%.

What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year. It takes time to develop a budget and steer it through Congress — especially in these days of congressional gridlock.

The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress.

Republicans who aren’t in the Kool Aid Party Ignorance Patrol know enough to activate Keynesian remedies while plunging into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The crap about dribble-down economics may keep meatballs like David Stockman in royalties from book sales at Koch Bros. jamborees – but, when push comes to economic shove, keeping the unemployed from storming the Wall Street Bastille or the Congressional Clown Show requires doing things that actually work.

The Wall Street Journal – the owners of Marketwatch – have a responsibility to provide legit numbers to their subscribers as often as possible. A certain amount of Heritage Foundation agitprop is always icing on the reality cake and the transfer of power to Rupert Murdoch layered the frosting of rightwing lies a bit thicker. But, they can’t afford to dump reality altogether in the face of competition which ain’t about to disappear.

Republicans and the Mittster will crank up Rove-ish lies about these facts as much as they can. And don’t kid yourselves – they know they will be lying. They are part of that investing class the WSJ wants to keep as subscribers. They know this is the real deal. But, ideology is dearer to Tea Party Republicans than to an infomercial peddler offering you abs of titanium from 2 double-A batteries and a patented whirligig.

Tea Party Victory = Global defeat for the United States

You wouldn’t expect much interest beyond the United States, or even beyond his own state, when an 80-year-old conservative legislator, who has already served six terms, loses his party’s endorsement to run yet again. But the crushing defeat of Senator Richard Lugar in the recent Indiana Republican primary, in a Tea Party-supported campaign of shocking mindlessness, has reverberated in capitals around the world, including my own.

Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years and President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group from 2000-2009, is currently Chancellor of the Australian National University…

On most issues, Lugar is and always has been a natural conservative…The problem for Lugar was two-fold. First, he was of the old school that instinctively embraced compromise across party lines in the Senate on crucial issues, in order to avoid the kind of gridlock that is always potentially endemic in a presidential system (unlike a parliamentary one), where the elected executive has no guaranteed majority in the legislature. If party lines are strictly maintained, US presidents may be unable to pass any legislation at all, or to make any judicial or other senior appointments…

At a personal level, I am also afraid that Lugar’s defeat may be the end of an era of enormously attractive and distinctive civility in the way that America’s most senior legislators conducted themselves. As Australia’s foreign minister, and a global NGO head, I met Lugar many times, and, whether or not we agreed on issues, he was always a model of gentle courtesy.

I can’t help but compare that to the occasion, not so long ago, when I accompanied my then co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a call on Jon Kyl, the most ideologically fierce Senate opponent of Obama-style arms control. On my arrival in his office, a senior Kyl staffer, after consulting the senator, said brusquely: “We only agreed to talk to the Japanese, not you. Would you please leave?”

There was nothing like a perfectly understandable, “Sorry, we misunderstood, and are only prepared now for a bilateral session. Can we see if we can possibly reschedule a joint meeting later?” I suppose that I should be grateful that he said “please.” But it’s the kind of experience that I had never had before in Washington, and I fear that it’s not unique.

In the past, anguish at home and abroad about the quality of US governance – its apparent arrogance, mindless parochialism, and incapacity to deliver coherent, credible, and decent policy outcomes – has for the most part proved short-lived.

If American voters are bright enough, capable of sufficient perception of how we’ve been hustled by rather an old-fashioned populist barrage of lies and slogans – perhaps the United States might only become a grown-up partner of other nations with a civilized interest in progress. Perhaps we might begin to deal intelligently and in an informed manner with our own problems. There’s a grocery list that extends from civil rights to election reform long overdue to sort our political larder.

RTFA for the details of Gareth Evans feelings and analysis. Examine the perception of the United States from the other side of the social fences being rapidly erected around our borders. Reflect upon a new isolationism founded in imperial arrogance, greed, hatred and fear. Not what a nation in economic trouble needs. Not what any modern nation deserves.